Friday, 6 May 2011

Great Palaces of the World

  •  If you ever wondered how the regal class lives, get an up-close & personal look at opulence inside each of these incredible palaces, from England to Tibet.
  • Check out these totally extreme castles.
Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

 This massive summer palace in Berlin is a popular tourist attraction and wonderful example of baroque and rococo style — in other words, ornate. It was originally the creation of Prussian King Friedrich I’s wife, Sophie Charlotte, but after Friedrich’s architect visited the Palace of Versailles around 1700, the building was greatly expanded, and even included a room covered in 6 tons of decorative amber. The Amber Room was gifted to Czar Peter the Great in 1716, but was looted during World War II. (Russian artists re-created the Amber Room in 2003, which visitors can see at the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg.) Still, among the rooms, the gardens and the outbuildings at Charlottenburg Palace, there is still plenty to see.

Buckingham Palace, London

 The official home of the British monarchy since Queen Victoria lived here in 1837, Buckingham Palace is one of the world’s most famous working palaces. It was originally built as a private house by the Duke of Buckingham, but it now has 775 rooms, including 240 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms. Visit the forecourt for the changing of the guard -- daily in summer, every other day in winter -- or take a tour of the official state rooms, which are open this year from July 23 to Oct. 3. The tour includes art by Rembrandt and Rubens, rare porcelain and lots of fancy furniture.

Royal Palace, Brussels, Belgium

 The Royal Palace in Brussels is where King Albert II has his offices and performs official duties as head of state. Built during the reign of King Leopold II (1865-1909), the palace is open to the public for several months starting every July 21. Highlights include the throne room with bas-reliefs by Auguste Rodin. The royal family today lives in Laeken, Belgium.

The Louvre, France

Before it became a famous museum, the Louvre Palace was the seat of French power. The building was added to and expanded by every French monarch from the 1500s until Louis XIV got fed up with Paris and moved the government to Versailles in 1682.  Today, thousands of visitors descend on the building to see the art that’s displayed in more than half a million square feet of exhibition space. The most controversial addition to the palace, the glass pyramid, was made by a Chinese-American architect, but thanks to a popular movie has become an accepted landmark.

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

 This baroque palace in Vienna dates to the 1500s, when Schönbrunn was a hunting lodge owned by the Hapsburgs. When the monarchy ended in 1918, the palace and park were transferred to the government of Austria, and today about 40 of the 1,441 rooms are open to the public. See how Emperor Franz Joseph lived in the 19th-century-style west wing, and tour the maze and labyrinth in the extensive gardens. If you get hungry, stop by the Court Bakery and watch how to make a traditional Viennese strudel.

Potala Palace, Tibet

 Tibet’s Potala Palace holds a commanding presence on a hilltop above Lhasa, at 12,100 feet elevation in the Himalayas. The palace dates from 1645, when Lozang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama, began construction on a magnificent residence that would become the primary home of the Dalai Lama until the current one, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959. The building consists of a Red Palace devoted to religious study, and a White Palace, which once housed the residences of the Dalai Lama and his monks. These days, both tourists and Tibetans make pilgrimages to the palace, which has become an amazing museum with more than 1,000 rooms, eight tombs of previous Dalai Lamas  including one covered in four tons of gold and two seventh-century chapels.

Catherine Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

 Peter the Great built the first Catherine Palace in 1717 for his wife, but their daughter Empress Elizabeth thought the two-story structure was too modest. She made the palace in Pushkin, near St. Petersburg, her main summer residence, and had it rebuilt on a scale to rival Versailles  complete with more than 220 pounds of gold for the exterior alone. While the Great Hall, the Green Dining Room and Blue Dining Room are beautiful, the re-created Amber Room is today’s biggest draw . The Nazis dismantled the original room of amber in 1936 and the panels were lost to history, but a $12 million effort resulted in a new one that opened in 2003 after 20 years of painstaking work by Russian craftsmen.

Versailles, France

 Stand before this immense building and you’d be hard-pressed to believe this palace was once a humble hunting lodge. When King Louis XIV moved the French royal court and government here in 1682, the palace of Versailles become something else entirely – an ostentatious display of power and wealth. The Hall of Mirrors (357 of them), Marie Antoinette’s gilded study and the king’s chamber and chapel are elaborate backdrops for a crash course in French imperial history. The palace was the seat of French power until 1789, but now it’s the logical seat of the Museum of the History of France.

Grand Kremlin, Moscow

 Behind the walls of the Kremlin are several historical buildings dating from the 14th century. The main monument in the complex is the gold and white, 700-room Imperial Palace. The newest part of this building was completed in 1849, when it became the Moscow residence of the czars, starting with Czar Nicholas I, and was lavishly decorated to make them feel at home: The Royal Apartments within the palace feature alabaster fireplace mantels and desks inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones. There are also five ceremonial halls, which is where the Russian president today often holds official events.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, India

 The Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur was once the largest private residence in the world, but it’s now a luxury hotel. Named for Maharaja Umaid Singh, the father of the current maharaja of Jodhpur, the 347-room building was completed in 1943 and is a unique blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles. Splurge on a stay here and indulge in the spa, dine at The Pillars restaurant or stroll the beautiful 26 acres surrounding the palace.

Belvedere Palace, Prague

 f you’re not too overwhelmed by a visit to the monumental castle in Prague, take time to explore the more modest summer palace on the grounds of the castle’s Royal Gardens. The Italian Renaissance building was a gift from King Ferdinand I to his wife, Queen Anne. It was completed in 1564, and is used today for arts exhibitions. Be sure to pause and listen to the Singing Fountain: When the water drops hit the bronze bowls, it’s reminiscent of bells or music.

Alhambra, Granada, Spain

 Harking back to the days when Spain was a Muslim land, the Alhambra is a 700-year-old palace complex built by the Moors near Granada, in what is now the Andalusia region. The so-called “Red Palace” is actually three palaces in one complex, and all evoke an earlier era of sultans and harems. The Alhambra's Islamic architecture can be seen in the delicate columned galleries such as the one surrounding the Court of Lions, the tile work throughout, and the many fountains and pools. A famous American author once stayed at the palace and was inspired by its history and legends.

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